In 1890 Thomas Edison purchased a Model B Ebony grand piano (serial no. 66793) from Steinway and Sons for the sum of $725. That piano is now being sold by Robert Friedman (The Steinway Hunter).
But what makes this piano of particular interest is the damage it has sustained at the hands, or rather the teeth, of Thomas Edison.
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) was an incredibly important and prolific American inventor. His inventions include the phonograph, the movie camera, the light bulb, electric power stations, rechargeable batteries, and many more.
Much of his work involved sound, but ironically he was very hard of hearing. He once wrote, “I have not heard a bird sing since I was twelve years old.” He is known to have been working on a prototype hearing aid, but never actually developed a practical solution.
However, to enhance his hearing Edison would use a technique known as bone conduction. This is the transmission of sound waves to the inner ear through the skull. And to receive these vibrations Edison would use his teeth.
The great inventor would bite into whatever device he wanted to hear more clearly, and thus experience a stronger sound. And tooth marks are clearly visible on this Steinway piano which records confirm Edison purchased at the age of 43.
This may all seem a bit far-fetched, but bone conduction was a popular concept at the beginning of the 20th century. Another inventor Hugo Gernsback was a leading light in the field. He invented the Osophone (osseous tissue is another phrase for bone tissue), which consisted of a microphone, amplifier and a bit piece that contained a small electromagnetic transducer. The bit piece is gripped by the teeth, and the sound vibrations are transmitted through the skull to the inner ear.
Bone transmission is still used today in open-ear headphones, and for the Google Glass headset.
The Steinway Hunter
Robert Friedman has spent his life buying, selling and restoring Steinway pianos. His excellent book, The Steinway Hunter, is a fascinating read and treats the piano as something far more spiritual than a mere object. This site ran a story on Friedman’s book back in 2021 (link).
Edison himself confirmed his use of bone conduction. In Edmund Morris’ 2019 biography, simply entitled “Edison”, the inventor is quoted as saying “I hear through my teeth, and through my skull. I bite my teeth into the wood and then I get it good and strong.”
Edison’s Steinway has had several owners over the years. Friedman purchased the piano in 2021 for $45,000. He has since offered it to The Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey, but they haven’t enough space to house the instrument. Friedman hopes that the piano can find a home in a suitable museum or educational establishment rather than going back into private hands.
If you’d like further information on the Edison Steinway, Robert Friedman can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
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